A Brief History of CBD and Hemp in Kentucky

There has been a huge surge in the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil products for medicinal purposes in the last few years and some of it is due to legalization of cannabis related products in several states. However, the use of CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related cannabis products is really nothing new. RSO or Rick Simpson Oil, one of the oldest “New Wave” forms of “homemade”, high concentration THC marijuana and targeted CBD products popularity has grown as well. So much so that there are now hundreds of websites and Facebook Pages with hundreds of thousands of followers dedicated to the use, proper dosing and exchange of success stories flooding the internet. 

Kentucky CBD


These products can be classified as “new wave” because their use as medications or holistic remedies is not really a new phenomenon at all. In fact, the use of cannabis derivatives like THC, CBD and medicinal marijuana has been around for centuries and the first recorded industrial hemp crop planted in North America was in 1606, in the American colony of Jamestown. In order to understand how the cannabis industry has gotten to the point it is now, we must first look at the history of the cannabis plant and in particular the industrial hemp variety.


By general definition “Industrial hemp is from the plant species Cannabis sativa and has been used worldwide to produce a variety of industrial and consumer products. Hemp is a source of fiber and oilseed grown in more than 30 nations. In the United States production is controlled under drug enforcement laws. To produce industrial hemp in the United States the grower must obtain a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).” In Canada and Europe, industrial hemp can be grown without a license as long as the cannabis Sativa variety being grown contains less than 0.3% THC, which is the psychoactive component found in higher concentrations in the marijuana plant. In the USA laws changed in the 20th century that made the growing of ANY cannabis plant illegal, regardless the level of THC it may contain. The direct relationship between industrial hemp and marijuana has always been troublesome and almost caused the complete unraveling of the hemp industry in America.


It is very important to note, before we look deeper into the role the state of Kentucky plays in the hemp industry, that the sails, ropes, cordage and clothing on all three of the ships that Columbus Captained to America, were exclusively made of hemp. Hemp was one of the first crops grown in The Americas and one that the Government made a legal requirement for all settlers to grow, in the early 1700’s. Canvas, which was a word derived from the Latin “cannabis” or “made with hemp” was very durable and was the main source for fabric and textiles used in the making of settlers’ apparel. As colonization moved across the America’s, so did hemp crops and one of the most ideal combinations of climate and soil conditions for growing hemp, were found in Kentucky. ”Historical Marker #1279 in Danville notes the first recorded hemp crop in Kentucky, which was grown on Clark’s Run Creek in 1775.” 


The Bluegrass region of Kentucky is home to some of the most fertile soils in the United States, which helped Kentucky hemp become world-renown for its hardiness, height and fiber yield. Over the first hundred years of its growth in Kentucky, farmers were able to develop a strain that crossed Chinese and European lineage that was yielding one of the highest quality and fastest maturing hemp plants on the world stage. This strain was able to produce between 5 and 7 tons of dry hemp stalks per acre and supplied more than 160 factories that produced everything from floor coverings to lamp oil and cloth. The Kentucky hemp processing industry, which was centered in Lexington at its peak, employed thousands of workers and covered over 20,000 acres of land. This continued until late in the 19th century when the costs of labor hindered the ability of large farms to continue producing enough hemp to be profitable. Crops like cotton, tobacco and flax had seen a spike in demand and Kentucky hemp farms that were not turning a profit chose to make the move to a higher paying harvest.


The 20th century was good and bad for cannabis as a whole. At the turn of the century an estimated 80% of all clothing produced in the U.S. was made from hemp fibers. Hemp production rose again in 1917 when American George W. Schlichten of the International Harvester manufacturing company patented an automated machine for separating hemp fibers from the plant stalk. This machine reduced the cost of fiber production by 100 times its current cost and gave large Kentucky farms the capacity they needed to meet the demands of the cordage companies supplying the First World War efforts. The U.S. Navy was one of the largest consumers of Kentucky cordage as most battleships needed upwards of 70,000 pounds of rope per ship.


Industrial hemp’s largest hurdle and the one that nearly crippled it came in the 1930’s when large oil and gas conglomerates developed petroleum based fiber products. Shortly after filing their patent for “plastic fiber” the DuPont company joined forces with the newspaper and lumber barons to launch a smear campaign against what they saw as it’s largest competition, the industrial hemp industry. Direct parallels between hemp and marijuana were widely advertised using horribly bleak wording that gave the average American the idea that wearing clothes made with hemp fibers would cause headaches and hallucinations or make you outright sick. In 1937, hemp went from what Popular Mechanics called a “billion dollar crop” to the crop that no one wanted, almost overnight. In September of 1937, under immense pressure and lobbying from the synthetic textiles industry, the Government levied an occupational tax law on hemp dealers and by December of the same year, passed legislation that placed an outright ban on hemp production all together. 


There was a small resurgence of Hemp production in Kentucky, that came in 1942 when the Chinese invaded the Philippines and cut off the supply of imported hemp. This created a demand for hemp fiber that couldn’t be met, leaving the Government with no other option than to lift the ban and issue permits to “patriotic farmers who wanted to help the war effort” so they could begin growing hemp again. 1942 saw more than 36,000 acres of hemp sewn with a projected goal of over 50,000 acres set for 1943. Industrial hemp production and processing continued until the end of the war and in 1945 the ban was reinstated. The ban caused the loss of more than 25,000 products that were being produced from the hemp plant including, Government papers, bank notes, paints, varnishes, printing inks, canvas, the original Levi’s Jeans fibers and building materials, to name a few. Companies using modern technological advancements still import and use hemp to produce things like composite boards, motor vehicle brake and clutch pads, plastics, bio-fuels and diesel but with all these uses, domestic farmers were still not permitted to grow industrial hemp again until 2018. 


The rebirth of the hemp plant industry in Kentucky started in 2012 when hemp advocates began to shed light on the damage that losing hemp as an industry had on business and the people. State officials started to take notice and in April of 2013 the Senate passed Kentucky State Bill 50, which laid out the financial and infrastructure game plan for hemp growing return to the marketplace. The 2014 Farm Bill was passed by the Senate, allowing Universities to grow hemp for research and development purposes and paving the way for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to launch the Industrial Hemp Research Program. By 2017 the senate passed Kentucky Bill 218 which expanded and improved the legal framework for growing industrial hemp. The bill also set out 6 major legal requirements for growers, replaced the old Hemp Commission with the Kentucky State Advisory Board and charged the University of Kentucky’s Regulatory Services laboratory with responsibility for THC testing. These steps helped align State Law with the 2014 Farm Bill so farmers could begin planting immediately after the federal government lifted the ban. Cannabidiol or CBD’s definition and connection to THC and marijuana was better explained and clarified by Kentucky House Bill 333, making CBD products available to the public by physician’s prescription and in 2020 Kentucky House Bill 236 allowed growers to transport industrial hemp raw materials with a THC level over 0.3% to processing facilities outside the State as long as the final product tested at or below 0.3% in the final product.


As we move into the history of hemp (CBD) oil and hempseed oil in Kentucky, we must understand that although these products sound as if they are the same thing, they are completely different in both chemical structure and the portion of the plant used to produce them. In the 21st century the distinction that is made between hemp seed oil and hemp oil or CBD oil is that hempseed oil is cold pressed and processed from just the seed portion of the hemp plant where only the essential oils and the superfood Omega3 fatty acid exist. The health benefits and long list of practical uses of hemp seed oil, like lamp oil, have been known for as long as it has been grown in Kentucky and when industrial hemp was a large cash crop, hemp seed processing facilities were abundant. As the prohibition on the growing and handling of the hemp plant started, these facilities either evolved and found ways to source hemp seeds, which are recognized as containing little to no cannabinoids, or they were forced to close. Processing facilities in Kentucky became savvy and developed new ways to stretch every ounce of oil from the hemp seed they were able to source and as such, became some of the most technologically advanced processors in the world. Throughout the 80 years of hemp plant prohibition, Kentucky hemp seed oil processors have produced some the highest quality hemp seed oil available.


It is true that hemp seed oil and CBD oil are completely different things but Kentucky’s progressive attitude to the future of hemp gave it a distinct jump on all other States in America. Kentucky is only the 3rd largest hemp producing state behind Colorado and Oregon however, the top two states have focused more on all cannabis varieties, rather than specialize in just industrial hemp. Kentucky has taken industrial hemp plants, hemp seed oil and CBD oil production very seriously and invested countless amounts of both money and research in the development of products and processes that build on its long standing hemp production and processing history. As the growth, transport and production of hemp products opens up, Kentucky is poised in the perfect position to become an industry leader in both quantity and quality of CBD oil products.


As the legal CBD industry in Kentucky and across America grows, so does the popularity of CBD products from the state. Kentucky hemp and CBD products are so well known and synonymous with quality, that companies that are not even located in Kentucky try to incorporate it or the abbreviation KY into their name. Of the top three brands produced in Kentucky, the one that stands out in 2020 is Kentucky CBD (cbdky.com) Kentucky CBD products are FDA Approved and monitored by third party testing facilities. Their new 20,000 square foot, state of the art, ISO7 Certified laboratory in Harrodsburg, has an extraction capacity of 3.2 million units per month and currently supplies 4000+ retail outlets across the U.S. Kentucky CBD uses proprietary extraction methods that produce 100% organic, non GMO and 100% bioavailable oils as well as blended products with targeted focus on specific symptoms for a variety of ailments. Producing CBD oil products with biomass from its own onsite farm and contracted farms across the State, Kentucky CBD provides a complete “Farm to Table” experience with a proven track record of success. They truly are one of Kentucky’s finest producers of quality Kentucky CBD hemp oil products.